Having foolishly agreed to go on the Nijmegen March I decided I had better train for it. Now, 773 kilometers later I am pronouncing myself ready. I hope.
I started last March as the snows melted going three kilometers. Then five. Then ten. During the first several walks it was dark out. So I went to Canadian Tire and bought one of those reflective vests people wear at construction sites and airports. I wore it over my parka. It was quite a site. Very diplomatic. My wife had much to say about “my new look.”
My greatest friend in this process has been books on tape. It can get kind of boring walking for hours. For a while music was fine. But as the walks got longer music just wasn’t enough. Books on tape were more distracting. So I got a lot of them. Long ones. Books I wouldn’t ordinarily read. I listened to War and Peace. Then Crime and Punishment. I listened to business books. Then I started on biographies (I highly recommend Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs and Robert Caro’s most recent volume on Lyndon Johnson). I listened to so many books I wore out my iPod. Had to get a new one.
When I wasn’t by myself listening to books on tape I was with my 11 person Nijmegen military team. They are all great. Except for one thing. They seem to enjoy starting the hikes at 4 am. After an hour or so and a couple of stops at Tim Horton’s (they always map out the Tim Horton locations on the route) I was able to overlook the early hour and begin talking. It did give me the chance, however, to see a few spectacular sunrises.
Pretty soon I could go for four or five hours (20-25 K) without too much trouble. Then – in accordance with the military rules – we did back-to-back 30 K walks. And finally back-to-back 40 K’s. After that I was pretty sure I could make it. That is until I went on a trip with Prime Minister Harper to North Bay. During the trip I managed to fall down a flight of steps. As I was lying up-side-down on the cement the first thing that went through my mind was NOT: “Gee the United States Ambassador really looks foolish.” It was “Oh, no! All that training for nothing.” While I was kind of banged up, I wasn’t deterred and after a couple of days, I was back up on my feet. Literally.
My team includes a couple of real Nijmegen veterans. For one, this will be his tenth; for another, his eighth. They have some great tips for the rest of us novices. The only problem is they usually don’t agree on advice. One says walk every day, the other says walk three times a week over very long distances and then recover. One says eat frequently, the other says don’t. One says wear two pairs of socks, the other says wear one. The two things they do agree on, however, are that Nijmegen is a great experience. And do what works for you. Then don’t change it!
Speaking of socks … I have tried them all. Someone sent me to Mountain Equipment Co-op because they have a good selection. I got there and – sure enough – there was a whole wall of socks. I bought one of each pair and mixed and matched them until I found the ones I liked and then stocked up.
Then there were the combat boots. Combat boots have a bad rap. I thought they’d be heavy and uncomfortable. The modern ones are light and very comfortable — when you get the right ones, that is. That took a while of trial and error and a closet full of discarded models. As an Ambassador, I’m supposed to promote business; chalk this up to doing my part for the footwear industry. Once you have the boots and the socks you have to start experimenting with insoles, tape, powder, creams, etc, etc, etc.
Having tried just about everything on my feet, I thought I had it figured out. That left just one thing. What to wear on the rest of me. The others on my team – being in the Canadian Forces – would wear their uniforms. At first we thought I should wear a U.S. uniform. Then we decided that since I wasn’t in the military I should wear civilian clothes. But which ones. If it had been up to me I would have worn those red shorts I wear on the golf course. The ones that embarrass my family. But it turned out they also embarrassed the Canadian Forces. So I settled on some olive drab colored hiking pants and grey long sleeved shirts. Sort of look like a rag tag soldier. But I do have a beautiful camouflage Tilly hat and a camouflage pack. Can’t say as I look like I’m exactly ready to go to war. But at least I’m comfortable.
Last night I started to make up my packing list. Tonight I have to cut it in half so I have some chance of fitting it into the one suitcase I’m allowed.
Tomorrow we go to the Send-Off Parade at the War Museum. Can’t wait.